Europe Union Acts To Protect Its Pollinators

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With increasing anxiety, we’ve read stories over the past years about the beehive colony collapses, the die-off of large numbers of bees of all kinds in the wild, and the threat to the future of many of our pollinators.

Why the anxiety?

A study by the European Union found that these pollinators, some wild, some commercially kept, are responsible for the development of plants that “provide almost all vitamin C, vitamin A and other micronutrients such as carotenoids, calcium, fluoride, folic acid and several antioxidants in human diets.”

According to the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, “Insect pollinators contribute an estimated $24 billion to the U.S. economy annually. Honey bees specifically pollinate about 100 crops in the United States.”

What is killing off our pollinators and threatening our food supply? There are two primary culprits in this assault, one natural, one man-made.

The Varroa mite is the natural enemy of bees and can wipe out colonies kept by commercial beekeepers to pollinate crops. The other is neonicotinoid insecticides. While the mites can be addressed with natural and chemical treatments, the neonicotinoids are sold by major agricultural chemical companies that adamantly resist blame or responsibility.

Neonicotinoids are used to coat seeds of many of our major crops such as corn, soybeans, sugarbeets, and canola, as well as other crops such as cotton and sorghum. They seep into a plant’s structure immunizing it against insects. The chemical reaches into the stem and leaves, but also into the flowers of plants where the pollen and nectar reside. Bees and other pollinators come in contact with the chemical and bring it back to the hive.

Studies around the world have conclusively found that neonicotinoids kill bees and other pollinators. They have found that they interfere with the reproductive cycle of the bees. They have found that their ability to survive the winter falls off. Researchers in Canada found that bees affected by the insecticide saw their queens die more often and didn’t keep their hives as clean.

Other research has found that neonicotinoids can enter the groundwater, and then be absorbed by wild flowering plants. Chemical dust from neonicotinoids can drift through the air infecting pollinators and hives, and seep into non-crop plants they will later come in contact with.

Rather than wait for the companies like Bayer CropScience to address the problem, the European Union has recently taken decisive action against neonicotinoids. “Citing concerns for food production, the environment and biodiversity, the European Union is set to ‘completely ban’ the outdoor use of neonicotinoid insecticides that have been blamed for killing bees, and for keeping other bees from laying eggs,” Environmental reporter for National Public Radio Bill Chappell writes.

A complete ban on the insecticide’s use outdoors is being implemented with its use only allowed in enclosed greenhouses where pollinators aren’t present. The EU’s action is based on scientific evidence and advice it received from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in efforts to protect pollinators.

Bayer CropScience isn’t taking the ban passively. It has called the ban “a sad day for farmers and a bad deal for Europe.” They have challenged past neonicotinoid restrictions and will be fighting the ban as well.

The ag chemical company points to research that shows that in some areas where studies were conducted the neonicotinoids did not harm bees or other pollinators, and in fact, may have had a positive impact on their health. The research also suggested that where mite levels are lower neonicotinoid use didn’t seem to have a harmful effect on the survivability of pollinators.

What that research also found was that where the impact on pollinators appeared to be low, there was a broad availability and diversity of wildflowers for them to interact with. Where crops dominated the landscape, the adverse impact on bees and other pollinators was significant.

What we know with certainty from all our research through the decades is that when it comes to health and safety, many corporations will put profits first. They will question studies that find harm done by their products. They will use disinformation campaigns to discredit and create doubt about the adverse studies. They will give significant campaign contributions to elected officials who influence the laws that govern their products. Think about the tobacco product fights of the past and the opioid drug battles we fight today.

As America perhaps works toward an eventual ban on neonicotinoids, it will be critical that conservation efforts protect a diverse landscape where wildflowers can flourish. The buffer strips we are adding to Minnesota’s landscape will not only protect our groundwater and surface waters from pollution, they will also provide habitat to protect our pollinators.

As Congress works on the farm bill, it should expand the availability of acres offered under the Conservation Reserve Program and other such conservation programs. However, there are forces in Congress that would further reduce the CRP acreage.

We also must be open to the research that points to the threats chemicals pose to our environment and creatures that populate it. That is not happening at the Environmental Protection Agency under Director Scott Pruitt, whose loyalty is to big business. He is putting into policy restrictions on publicly funded research that is used to question the health and safety of products of his friends.
 

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